The recent Wikipedia shutdown on 18 January 2012 was meant to raise awareness for two proposed US laws entitled the “Stop Online Piracy Act” and the “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act”.
Wikipedia, along with a number of other prominent websites, shut down their services. Google also participated by replacing their logo with a blacked-out sign.
While these laws are US laws, the passage of these laws could potentially affect Australian-based internet businesses who also trade in the US, especially those who operate websites which allow its users to contribute or comment on the website.
The controversial parts of these bills allow for intellectual property owners to seek an order against a variety of other entities, such as an internet service provider, a provider of advertising services, or an internet search engine, and effectively compel these entities to exclude or deny access to a website which may have infringing material. The bills are drawn in a very broad manner and can potentially end up targetting both the good and the bad.
A common example given is where a website like Google is ordered to deny access to a website which has been deemed to contain infringing material.
Both Wikipedia and Google recognise that protecting the rights of intellectual property owners are important, however both of them consider that these bills in their current forms are detrimental to the development of the internet.
Even though Australian-based internet businesses are not subject to US laws, the legislation may result in cutting these businesses off from the US market as well as from search engines, advertisers, or payment or transaction providers (such as PayPal), based in the US. The result could be disastrous.
It is difficult to say what kind of legislation would be passed in the end – all we can advise is that Australian-based internet businesses should keep an eye out for developments in this area.